If you’ve been following the news lately, you’ve probably heard a lot about Manti Te’o, a football player at Notre Dame whose tragic story of a girlfriend who was both in a serious car accident and later died of leukemia turned out to be entirely fictional. Te’o claims he was taken in by a cruel and skillful online manipulation in which someone created a fictional girl and gradually drew him in, but critics have been speculating that he must have been in on the plan.

No matter if it’s true or not, the situation has drawn plenty of comparisons with Catfish, the new MTV show about dating scams and online paramours pretending to be other than what they are. If you’ve been dating online, you’ve no doubt considered the problem. How can you know whether what someone tells you about themselves online is true? There are a few basic precautions you can take to avoid a situation like this one in your own love life.

  1. Date Local: This one may be obvious, but one of the easiest way to be sure that your date is who she says she is is to restrict your search to people who live close enough to you that you can meet in person. Most online dating sites will allow you to restrict your matches to those within a certain distance of your city. It’s always wise to take some precautions before meeting in person, but before you claim her as your girlfriend, it’s smart to see your sweetie face to face.
  2. Chat on Camera: If meeting in person’s not an option, consider a video chat so you can confirm that at least the person you’ve met matches their pictures. You can pretty easily use a service like Skype to do this for free. Just keep your first chats G-rated.
  3. Take it Slow: Whether you meet online or at the bar, it’s smart to take it slow with a new partner. Hold off on any major commitments like moving in together, lending money, or making any large joint purchases until you’ve known your partner for long enough to be sure of his or her motivations. Remember that signing off on loans or credit cards together can be really bad for your credit if your partner turns out to be untrustworthy!
  4. Be a little bit skeptical: Let’s face it. From small exaggerations like an extra inch of height or a flattering picture to big stuff like what you do for a living, lots of people lie at least a bit on their online dating profiles. It probably doesn’t hurt to stay at least a little bit skeptical about the things your new date claims until you’ve seen some confirmation with your own eyes. Remember that it can be easier to lie online than in person and hold off judgement until you’ve known the person for at least a few months.
  5. Do Your Research: Does something seem a little fishy about your new girlfriend or boyfriend? Maybe do a little bit of poking around. Check to see if they have an active and established Facebook page, Twitter account, or another online presence. You can also look for them with people search services, though be aware that those sites are not always accurate. Finally, check LinkedIn. It can be easy to fake a Facebook page, but a professional history is a little more work.